The Power Generating Combustor, marketed by Alphabet Energy Inc. and Coyote North Ltd., is depicted as it would appear on a remote location. (Source: Alphabet Energy Inc.)
A number of effective strategies exist to enable compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Quad O rule to limit emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Hoping that the regulations just go away is not one of them.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association made its case to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy last December, contending that “the proposed requirements are duplicative and unnecessary in states like Colorado that have established, and are enforcing, aggressive VOC control regimes.”
John Kneiss, Washington-based director for Stratas Advisors who tracks energy policy, is unaware of any delays in the implementation of emission control regulations. He told Hart Energy that he believes the Obama administration is intent on completing these rules before its term ends.
Transformative technology may provide the answer for upstream and midstream operators. Heat waste and energy recovery is not a new concept, and a number of products manufactured by GE Oil & Gas, Dresser-Rand Group Inc. and Dow Oil, Gas and Mining, among others, are on the market.
A new product, now being tested in the Utica Shale and the Eagle Ford Shale, features a solid-state generator that promises to destroy emissions while providing electricity for remote oil and gas sites.
“We had a number of customers who said, ‘we’re generating electricity from waste heat (after deployment of Alphabet Energy’s E1 product), which we really like, but we obviously have a lot of waste heat in the corner over there where we’ve got that flare burning, where we’ve got that combustor sitting,’” Mothusi Pahl, vice president of marketing and head of business development for Hayward, Calif.-based Alphabet Energy Inc., told Hart Energy. “‘Why can’t I do something with the flare?’”
The result is called the Power Generating Combustor (PGC), a device that resembles a metal smoke stack with a top hat over it. Gas destined for combustion enters at the bottom of the combustor and is exposed to intense heat—up to 2, 200 degrees Fahrenheit—in a process that destroys over 99% of the vapors. The hot exhaust is routed through Alphabet Energy’s PowerModules, where the thermoelectric material activates, leading to power generation.
The pressing issues of emissions regulations and access to affordable electricity in the field are simultaneously addressed in a single device. Alphabet Energy and partner Coyote North Ltd. seess opportunity wherever gaining control over flaring is a need, though for now it is focused on companies operating in Ohio and south Texas.
“Producers have to watch the emissions that they’re emitting and have to either destroy them through combustion technology such as ours or recovery,” Brent Willey, president of Grande Prairie, Alberta-based Coyote North. “It’s come to the forefront in Canada, with regulations changing and big rumors in Canada of carbon taxation. Even in California, when you look at how strict the emissions are there. Being able to provide a product such as ours that meets the regulations that will destroy vapors is actually changing the landscape.”
The PGC system saves users on capex because they only need to invest in one piece of equipment, instead of purchasing both a generator and a combustor. It saves in operational expenses by avoiding the fuel cost of a reciprocating engine, either diesel that must be trucked in or natural gas produced in the field that could be producing revenue in the market.
While Pahl said he sympathized with operators who are unhappy with the emissions regulations, he pointed out that even without Quad O, operators don’t want to vent gas on site.
“Nobody wants to do that because you get flash fires and explosions and you’re putting your people at risk,” he said. “But there is still going to be some combustion happening on site to destroy either that stranded gas or to burn off those waste products, so the heat source is going to be there, whether or not that Quad O enforcement is in place. Now, there’s an opportunity to use this heat source to generate power and make the flare useful.”